Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

One Side Then, and Both Sides Now

Enthroned at the center of a mosaic of apostles and courtly observers, Joni Mitchell radiated the aura of a Byzantine empress as she performed at the 2024 Grammy Awards amid a shimmering haze of golden chandeliers and a woodwind ensemble.

Rich hues of yellow, orange and brown enshrouded Mitchell and her entourage in the mystic vein of a prophetess of old — and looking at events, I’m not convinced she isn’t one. After a brain aneurysm in 2015, only a miracle would suggest even the mere possibility of Mitchell speaking or walking again, much less performing live in front of music’s biggest names.

Not to ,ention, taking home a tenth Grammy.

The trajectory of her career represents a powerful rise from difficult circumstances; she suffered from polio as a child and later had to give her daughter up for adoption. Her albums at first stuttered, then soared.

It may come as no surprise, then, that strength was evident from the first sounds that pass through Mitchell’s lips, even all these years later, as she began with the iconic introduction of “Both Sides Now”:Rows and flows of angel hair / And ice cream castles in the air.”

The quick, upbeat tempo with which she once delivered these lyrics has by no means disappeared. Rather, it has evolved into something profoundly becoming of the sage role Mitchell has assumed in the music industry. Taylor Swift, the woman of the night (decade?), has said Mitchell’s “Blue” (1971) is her favorite album, and the likes of Lana del Rey and Phoebe Bridgers have cited Mitchell as an inspiration.

Moving into her signature delivery — poetic and profound, like a sorrowful songbird — her embattled lyrics take on a different meaning than they once did. Listening to a twenty-something deliver profound life advice is almost paradoxical; it often shifts the focus of a piece to its lyricism and instrumentals instead, if for no other reason than the general association of knowledge with age. As conventional wisdom would have it, even Mitchell, whose life at 30 was already filled with profound sorrow, suffering and love, could not possibly have known “both sides.” Perhaps, then, it was just one side that she knew back then, even if she knew that side very well.

Now, in 2024, she continues in song, delivering classic lines like “So many things I would’ve done / But clouds got in my way” with poignant, forlorn head shakes and sideways glances. The focus is now shifted: at 80, what would she have done?

The visuals, sounds and even the aura of Mitchell practically beg the question: What do I do? What can I do? Her regal presence — rare and miraculous — almost feels as though we are before a divine authority; like little children before Jesus, we are desperately curious.

Alas, Mitchell answers with an admonition that, in her youth, sounded more like a reflection. “And if you care, don’t let them know / Don’t give yourself away,” she sings. And we listen. This is apparent in the tears of Meryl Streep and Beyoncé, and from my own interpretation: This is true, Mitchell says; this is what I have learned.

She is punchy, too, in a manner that is thrilling and understated all at once. Her lyrics, much like her, have evolved, and she lets herself reflect that. On Sunday night, “Say I’ve changed” was “Joni, you’ve changed,” a simple shift in syntax that invites listeners into her personal experience that has been at times scrutinized, assumed and judged.

All eyes on her, Mitchell reaches a crux as she delivers her thesis: “Some things lost, but some things gained / In living every day.” Life is give and take, and up and down, I hears; it is what we make of it. A million different lessons can be drawn from just these few words.

What, though, is living every day? If we look at her life, it is persisting every day, inquiring every day, creating every day, challenging every day. Just the same, she repeatedly asserts that she really doesn’t know life — at all. I’m not convinced.

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About the Contributor
Jack Willis, Executive Editor
Jack Willis is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service from St. Augustine, Fla., studying international politics. He won his middle school spelling bee. [email protected]

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